This post was sparked by the first annual writing contest hosted by ecochick.com in September 2015. The chosen theme was "Women and Water."
Lusty villains are chasing a nubile woman. She steps gingerly into a basin of water, wrings herself out like a washcloth and dissolves. Her body reconstitutes itself elsewhere as she steps out of another container of water. No more bad guys in sight.
This is a scene from a movie I remember watching as a child. Another striking image, this time from a TV commercial: A woman lies spread-eagled on a life-size lotus afloat on a pond. Her expression is languid, making her seem unreachable.
Something about both scenes awoke the first stirrings of sensuality in me. Water symbolized escape—whether from danger, my straight-laced Catholic upbringing, or the tedium of reality, I wasn’t sure at the time.
When I was 14, my Dad retired from the Philippine Air Force, which meant we couldn’t live on base anymore. Our family moved from the city to a remote subdivision converted from rice fields. The nearest neighbor was a brisk walk over the hill. At sunset, the lizards on the walls joined the crickets in evening song. At night if you got out of your mosquito net to get a drink of water, the flying cockroaches dive-bombed you. It became a choice between enduring thirst or braving the wilds.
We had electricity but no phone lines or running water yet. We had a pump well in the back yard powered entirely by elbow grease. The water gushed out brown and greasy-smelling with every push on the roughhewn beam that served as the handle. Dad put a sock over the opening. That was our filter. One day a lady came looking for my parents, who weren’t home. She asked for a glass of water. I gave her one from the pitcher in the fridge. She knew, just by looking at it, that it wasn’t from the tap. When she didn’t take a drink, I glimpsed our new lifestyle as it must look to outsiders. Miraculously, no one in the family got sick when we moved to the sticks, apart from the first summer when I broke out in hives.
Our small house had a galvanized iron roof. When it rained, which was six months of the year in the tropics, the rain made pleasing pelting noises on the roof. It could either make you sleepy or help you focus. In high school I studied for a test with the sound of rain on the roof. I aced the exam. In the middle of Typhoon Didang Signal #4, I cowered under a blanket in bed, waiting for the roof to rip off and the fierce rain to pelt us in the dark. The roof stayed put, but by the next morning the trees stood nude.
As a grown woman, the thought of water inexplicably disturbs me. Not the kind in a bottle or out of the tap. The untamed force that tosses ships and hides alien-looking sea creatures. The torrential rains that release from grim clouds. The malevolent waves that hurl across the ocean and rear up on shore to collapse and crush cars, buildings and the economies of small countries.
In California’s agricultural Central Valley where I live now, concrete irrigation canals snake through farmland, pasture, dairies and orchards to funnel water from mountain reservoirs to thirsty lowland. Some roads cross over these canals. I am always queasy driving over these short bridges. I have never learned to tread water, and I am short enough that my head would be under water if I tried to stand in a canal. That’s assuming one can stand. I suspect there is a current beneath that benign surface strong enough to pull your bloated body along for miles.
I go through a disaster checklist in case my car swerves and plunges into the canal. Unbuckle seatbelt. Hit the button to lower the window, or break it with the small hammer designed specifically for such a purpose. Take a big gulp of air and pray I get my head above water before it runs out. I have gotten much better at holding my breath and extending my exhales from three years of yoga.
While all of California withered to a crisp in the drought, and while forest fires brutalized hundreds of homes this summer, I nursed my distrust of water with shame.
The fear stalks me. One night on a cruise to the Caribbean, I could not bring myself to lean against the deck railing. The moon reflected off the inky waves. It might have been romantic if I weren’t bordering on bonkers. I kept squashing thoughts of climbing recklessly over the railing and flinging myself into the depths. Why would I even be thinking that? Who runs toward the beast?
The human body is about 60% water. Mine wants to retain all my water as though I had a personal scarcity. Sweating is a natural detox, but this midlife body disdains it. On the dance floor, while everyone around me secretes from palms, underarms, foreheads and backs, I remain uncomfortably hot and dry. If I tried hot yoga or sat in a sauna I would likely suffer heatstroke.
In times of trouble, my dreams are variations on water themes: In one, I am trying desperately to drive a bus home over steep terrain. Just when I think I’m almost there, a flood renders the road impassable. Any dream dictionary will tell you that water stands for strong emotions. In my waking hours, I keep a tight grip on mine.
In the second theme, I feel the urge to pee, but the bathroom always has some faceless guy standing there. Or the windows don’t have blinds and there is absolutely no privacy. So I have to hold my water.
Recently, though, my relationship with water may have shifted. I teach midlife women a fusion called Ballroom Yoga. We undulate to the beat and the breath, shedding inhibitions and self-loathing, flooding with gratitude for the gift our bodies truly are. My husband says we move like water.
Water awakened me to my sensual nature when I was a girl, and as a woman I have come full circle to my sensuality and spirituality.